One of our highlights of GDC was sitting down with the the Director and Writer of Danganronpa, Kazutaka Kodaka. While a series full of twists and turns like Danganronpa could have us talking endlessly, Kodaka was kind enough to answer some of our most pertinent questions (through an interpreter) about the first two titles and gain new insight on the Danganronpa series.
Note that spoilers for both games are abound, so read at your own risk.
[Hardcore Gamer] Where did the inspiration come for the basic plot of the game?
[Kazutaka Kodaka] The original desire was to create a new IP, so delving into what I was interested in – Battle Royale and mystery novels. I thought, “what is a way I can combine these two things to create a new experience?”
Was the idea for Monokuma yours or somebody else?
Totally mine – the idea was mine.
Was he always going to be a robotic teddy bear or was there some other idea?
No, it was not a bear. We experimented with several things – what we knew was that we wanted to do was this black and white thing. In Japanese, they talk about guilty and not guilty is black and white. Originally, we had a humanoid figure, but it didn’t look cool. We thought about what was cute and went with this bear. Half was white and the other half was black, inspired by Venom from Spider-Man and the design came in five minutes.
This isn’t just for the first game, but my entire approach to how I write these is a bit of column A and column B. There’s definitely twists and turns and an end goal I had in mind, but there are also these strong characters I want to push out and wants to do so one influences the other and vice versa.
There are so many different characters in the game – are there any that are any interesting or notable inspirations – perhaps drawn off of personal experiences?
Basically speaking, I put things I like into each of the characters. For example, I like martial arts – so that’s where the idea for a fighter character came from. The character designer likes punk music, so that’s where we got the punked out character like Leon Kuwata. It’s difficult to explain; there’s always a precedent for things. It can be difficult to put into words, but there’s an inspiration with every character.
One of the most interesting character plot twists was that Chihiro turned out to be a different sex than originally thought. Did that idea form with the inception of the character?
Originally, what came first was “the trick”. It was a character all the time you thought was a girl was a boy. So if you think it’s a girl, make it a really cute girl and since she’s cute, let’s make her a programmer since how often do you think of really cute girls as programmers? It all built off that one idea and then compounded on itself.
That was a different idea. I wanted there to be some kind of character that would give advice and support to the group from beyond. One way to do that would be to create a ghost, but narratively speaking, having a ghost winding up being the killer would screw with the reality of the game, so I thought, what’s another way to do that? If you’re a programmer, you can write an AI that will continue after the character dies. The idea was different than the original inception of the character.
Genocide Jack has become somewhat of an icon for the game, were you surprised by that? Was the intention to make her a banner character?
This is an interesting phenomenon. I feel the character is one that didn’t resonate with the fans, and in terms of popularity from the first game’s cast, she wasn’t one of the most popular characters. That said, she was popular with other creators of content like myself and I liked the character a lot, so that’s how the character got pushed forward. I have a feeling, talking to people here, that the character is better received here than in Japan.
Obviously, there was some resolution at the end of Trigger Happy Havoc, but it was open-ended. Was the game originally written to be stand-alone or was there an idea for a franchise?
You could say that there wasn’t, but it was open-ended. It’s a technique called “the little story.” Within bigger events, there’s a smaller theme or narrative. The idea is that you have a self-contained thing and then at the end, it opens up and then the audience is left to figure out what happens there. That’s what I wanted to do, so realizing that, it was a conscience decision to not show much of the outside world. When the door opens at the end, it wasn’t so much that we were going to go out in the world, it was more the idea that the characters overcame all of these things, so now they have hope in their hearts. Even though we know that the outside world is screwed up, the characters will approach this with hope and do what they can to overcome what comes after because they overcame what was inside here.
While doing 2, it’s one thing to announce it, but I wanted to do something the fans could think about. One was making him fat and the fans would wonder why he’s back and why is he fat? Another character’s name is a rearrangement of “Makoto,” the main character of the first. I wanted players to think about that and wonder what the deal with that – it was a way to build hype.
Where did the idea for Usami/Monomi come from? Why make a counterpart bear to Monokuma?
This has to do with keeping up user interest. How about a counter mascot? The idea was to have a cute girl stand over Monokuma. But when I thought that idea through its conclusion, it didn’t work — no one stands over Monokuma. So that’s where the idea of a counterpart animalistic rabbit came from; anti-Monokuma, who also happens to be a masochist. So a counterpoint to Monokuma is where it ended up.
Gundham Tanaka is one of the weirdest characters; where on earth did he come from? Did you find it humorous to pepper randomness like that in?
The original idea was to create a Chuunibyou character – a young person who is in their own world and thinks they’re super-cool and live in this fantasy world. That was the idea, and once we had that, we created the character design. He looks pretty cool, so what do you do now? There’s a sea queen who can summon animals, so what a perfect marriage for him. It all came together – he’s in his own little world, wants a fantastic adventure, looks cool and he’s an animal husband who in his mind can summon them.
Danganronpa 2 is bigger, expanding upon practically everything. Did the idea to make the game bigger come first or did the story come first and then it was decided to expand the game? If the latter, did it help the storytelling process to have a more open world?
There wasn’t a particular idea to make it bigger. With the first, it’s a common trope in mystery to have characters in a small space. To get away from that, what can we do? Instead of a building, let’s put them on an island, which is much bigger. Things organically grew from there. It was kind of like the world view of Danganronpa 2 would be like Lost in terms of scale.
I feel the structure of Trigger Happy Havoc was very well done. I had the idea of having characters trapped, and that call came together very well. In the second game, I felt I did a better job of making the characters real and feel more like humans. If you look at the latter-half of the story, it’s more about humans, feelings and emotions. My character writing ability really improved and I could make characters that could resonate with people.
Now that Another Episode has been released, would you like to continue the story in a visual novel or another form of media?
When we were making Another Episode, it went from 2D to 3D, so I want to go back to 2D. When I was finishing 2, I thought I was done, but the more I thought about it, I thought “maybe we could try something else.” So even though we thought it was over, we want to do a new series, but I never know what direction it’s going in.